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J Biomol Tech. 2007 February; 18(1): 12.
PMCID: PMC2291972

P33-T Streamlining Plant Sample Preparation: The Use of High-Throughput Robotics to Process Echinacea Samples for Biomarker Profiling by MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry


Several species in the genus Echinacea are beneficial herbs popularly used for many ailments. The most popular Echinacea species for cultivation, wild collection, and the development of herbal products include E. purpurea (L.) Moench, E. pallida (Nutt.) Nutt., and E. augustifolia (DC). Product adulteration is a key concern for the natural products industry, where botanical misidentification and the potential for introduction of other botanical and non-botanical contaminants exist throughout the formulation and production process. Therefore, rapid and cost-effective methods that can be used to monitor these materials for complex product purity and consistency are of benefit to consumers and producers. The objective of this continuing research was to develop automated, high-throughput methods to process samples and differentiate Echinacea species by their MALDI-TOF mass profiles. Based on analysis of pure Echinacea samples, off-the-shelf products containing Echinacea could then be evaluated in a streamlined process.

Leaf/flower pieces, seeds, and roots from E. purpurea and E. augustifolia; seeds and roots from E. pallida; and off-the shelf Echinacea supplements were extracted in Tris buffer using bead-beating technology. Samples were then transferred, diluted, and deposited on a MALDI target plate for MS analysis using customized methods on a ProPrep liquid-handling system (Genomic Solutions). MS analysis of these samples highlighted key MS signal patterns from both small molecules and proteins that characterized the individual Echinacea samples analyzed. Corresponding analysis of dietary supplements was used to monitor Echinacea sample composition, including species and plant material used. These results highlight the potential for streamlined, automated approaches for agricultural species differentiation and botanical product evaluation.

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